Edited to add: This was written just before Biden officially declared -- very early days in the primary race. As my Dad reminded me, there's a lot we don't know yet, and we should view our assumptions with a lot of skepticism.
Here's how I see the next presidential administration, should the Democrats win it (I give them a fifty-fifty chance; maybe sixty-forty.)
The Senate will still be firmly in Republican hands. The House will probably remain Democratic. It's four more years of legislative deadlock, head-butting, name-calling, maneuvering. In office or out of it, Trump will still be tweeting like a lunatic, with a devoted following and a Fox News amplifier. He'll be slightly discredited, but he'll also be back where he loves to be, flinging dung from the outside. It will be very, very hard to get anything at all done. The fighting will not be clean. It will be an ugly four years, regardless. The Senate Republicans will resume their obstruct-the-president-at-whatever-cost approach.
What will the president's role be, then? What will be required of her?
Two things. First: she'll need to present a coherent and appealing picture of the path forward, so that people -- especially people in states that presently field Republican senators -- will want to give the Democratic Party a chance. The vision thing.
Second: she'll need to fight hard, scrappily, ferociously and continuously. It's going to be a fight from day one, an exhausting one. She's going to have to know where all the levers of power are and how to pull them. And she's going to be heading up a vast bureaucracy, the Federal Government, that will be depleted and demoralized, largely paralyzed by the legislative deadlock. So she will need high-level managerial skills, and extraordinary discipline.
Then perhaps we win the 2022 and 2024 elections. Perhaps we don't. That's a long ways out. At that point maybe we can implement some version of the Green New Deal. But that's not what we're doing right now. Right now, we're picking our champion for a brutal, four year slugfest.
To lay my cards on the table: right now my favorite candidate, by far, is Elizabeth Warren. She's become the de facto Democratic policy engine. She's laying out what we need to do, and she's doing it well. I have a soft spot for wonks, after all. I made phone calls for Dukakis. But: I doubt I'll be voting for her in the primaries. I don't think she's a particularly good campaigner. She's nearly as old as Joe Biden. I think she'd struggle to win back the midwestern states that we lost last time. And if she did win -- she's never managed anything larger than a Senatorial office. She knows the legislative process up and down, but I'm not sure how much good that will do us if Congress remains paralyzed.
Who does that leave? Well, there's Sanders. He does "the vision thing" but I don't see him as a scrapper, or a bulldog. He would keep the vision front and center, and we need that. But he's even older than Warren. Would he be able to get down into the pit and wrestle for the scraps, which are all we're going to get next time? I doubt it. Detail and discipline are not his strong suits. And as far as campaigning goes, we haven't yet seen what happens when the oppo machine gets to work on him. They'll have a lot to work with.
Biden? Well, older again. Not a particularly good campaigner either -- his previous presidential bids have fizzled out ingloriously. He tends to go on and on, and periodically to put his foot in his mouth. He does have the experience of the Obama administration, so he ticks that box. But his vision is locked in to the world of the 1970s (as is Sanders', for that matter: Biden is the 70s "Old Left" -- it was old even then -- and Sanders is the 70s "New Left.")
No. The two I look to, when I look past Warren, are Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris. Buttigieg strikes me as very like candidate Obama: someone who is able to project an aura of being new and exciting while actually being a cautious centrist. Obama won me over by running an incredibly brilliant, disciplined campaign. I never much liked his centrist policies, but his political abilities were astounding. Buttigieg may be a similar wunderkind; I don't know. He has the silver tongue, but whether he has the managerial skills, I don't know. His resume is pretty skimpy. I do think Buttigieg is the only candidate in the field who understands why anyone would have voted for Trump, and has thought constructively about how to bring those people back. We need to bring those people back. They're not going to evaporate just because they lose an election. We're going to be living together from now on, decade after decade. We can't roll the Republic back four years: we're going to have to find a way forward.
Then there's Kamala Harris, whom I suspect I will end up supporting. She has administered a large bureaucracy, as AG of California. She is very smart. She hasn't always done the vision thing terribly well, but she has surprised me lately by her boldness: she seems to have been biding her time, but she has emerged as a genuine Green New Dealer. And she has incredible discipline. She will stay on point, totally focused, for as long as she needs to. She's young enough to be able to pound her way through four years of exhausting fighting. And for what it's worth, I like her, for the same reasons I liked Hillary Clinton. I like that she chose the difficult and murky ways of the inside paths to power. She's understands that it's all trade-offs, if you're going to try to make things happen in the real world. You do the work, and you let people call you names, and you smile.
So there we are. At the moment of going to press, I'm for Harris. I guess like Warren better, but I like Warren mostly as a wonk, not as a fighter or a figurehead. She serves as a wonk as well in the Senate -- or better -- as she would in the White House.
In any case, I will support whoever the Democrats choose. The party is the only thing that really matters, in American politics, and the sooner we understand that the happier we will be. I like the Democratic Party better than I have ever liked it, in my long years of grudging support: so there's that.